Olga Irwin is a sweet, kind woman who can change your mood with a flash of her beautiful smile. A smile that hides more pain than even she cares to admit. Diagnosed with AIDS in 1999 and having only had three sexual relationships up to this point helped her narrow down the possibilities of who infected her with the HIV virus. After her new husband and her first boyfriend tested negative after being informed about her positive result, Olga knew she had to speak with boyfriend #2. Unlike boyfriend #1 and her husband, this person was not thankful she informed him about her positive result; he responded by calling her all sorts of vile names, tried to physically attack her. The history of their break-up came flooding back to her now and she understood his anger at being caught. She had originally left him because he began doing IV drugs and cheating on her as well as physically abusing her. She left there knowing who had gifted her with HIV. She has forgiven him and moved on to bigger and better things.
Olga took this opportunity to improve herself, her life and to focus on making better choices for herself and her future. Learning to live with HIV has taught her about the lasting effects of living life as a person filled with fear, anger and prejudice against others and with no self-esteem of her own. These years spent educating herself have opened her mind, given Olga hope for not only herself but have shown her she is able to give those things to others who are suffering. She used this opportunity to be a voice for the HIV community: just this year she became co-chair for the PWN-USA-OHIO CHAPTER on PWN-USA Strategic Communications Action Team, policy group and regional organizing committees; she traveled to Detroit, Michigan, to speak at the listening session for the HIV strategic plan this last May; and she has found the courage to start blogging herself! Olga also played a huge role in the planning of the Positive Women’s National Speak Up Summit, she has lobbied to keep funding for the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program; and visited with and spoken on behalf of our community to her State Legislature. Her story of diagnosis has been told by local news, in print and on television, and she has sat in on other groups like the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Ohio AIDS Coalition, Ohio Ryan White Care Advisory Board, Ohio Community Prevention Group and the Ohio Criminalization Task Force because Olga, not unlike many of the rest of us living with HIV and being responsible humans, thinks it is wrong to criminalize HIV. She began her crusade to end HIV criminalization because in the course of time she has had HIV, there have been two women who have tried to have Olga arrested and thrown into PRISON for exposing them to HIV. What did she do, you ask, to cause these reactions?
Well, she went and got a massage and gave someone a hug while she was sweating. YES, I am serious. Her masseuse became enraged after Olga WILLINGLY disclosed about her HIV status on a questionnaire and the masseuse did not see that Olga had checked the box that yes she was HIV-Positive until after the massage was done and she tried to press charges saying that Olga had somehow placed the masseuse and her unborn child at risk of HIV…Next, this lady Olga had known for about a year accused Olga of trying to intentionally infect her with HIV since Olga hugged her while sweaty. Both of these women actually went to the police to try to press charges! Thankfully justice prevailed and Olga was not charged, and in a surprising turn of events, the judge wanted Olga to press charges against both of them, which I think she should have (I am not as nice as Olga). But she did not; Olga only asked that the women be mandated to attend HIV 101 classes and possibly do some volunteer work for an agency to learn about HIV.
If you are not living with HIV please, please consider what you are doing and learn the facts about how HIV is spread so that YOU never do to someone what was done to Olga! Currently happily married, Olga spends her time advocating, hanging out with her large group of friends that she has amassed in the time she has spent becoming the person she always wanted to be, and spending time supporting others in our community in her outreach work.
One regret Olga has that many of us long term survivors have is that she allowed her doctors to talk her into having steps taken to remove the risk of having a child, because in the early days, it was not known that HIV-positive women could have HIV-negative babies. Though it’s a regret many of us live with today, she has not let that deter her from her work or from her focus on her future happiness. It has been a pleasure working with Olga, hearing her story and learning about her life struggles, and the means she used to overcome it as well as the growth that she has personally went through.
Thank you so much for allowing me to write your story, Olga. XXOO
This blog post originally appeared on the blog Living a Poz Life and is reposted with permission.